The kolacky is a centuries-old tradition in Central and Eastern Europe. So it’s no surprise that these filled buns are widely available in the community around New Prague, which boasts a deeply rooted Eastern European heritage. Sure, you can occasionally find kolacky at various Twin Cities bakeries, but why not go where people have been baking and eating them for decades, often from recipes brought to the U.S. by their ancestors?
Heavy Table decided to find out what a community long steeped in this tradition considers a real kolacky — tasty, but also traditional. Rather than having our staff serve as judges, we turned to residents of New Prague’s Mala Strana Assisted Living home. Most of these people are from the community. Many have Czech or other Eastern or Central Europe backgrounds and have grown up eating and baking kolacky. “Baked it every weekend for most of my life,” was a common refrain, at least among the women — two of the three men confessed they’d never made a kolacky, but “I ate it every weekend!” It might not be shocking to note that the women were tougher judges than the men.
There are several ways to make kolacky. Traditionally, the filling is made of fruit (especially apricots or prunes) or ground poppyseeds. The composition of the surrounding dough varies depending on the baker’s preferences, ethnicity, and family recipe; it might be a light yeast dough, similar to a bread roll, or it might be richer, like a brioche, or even a denser, heavier roll with a texture similar to a baking powder biscuit. Many bakers put their fruit or poppyseed filling into the center of the dough, while others prefer a more open-face approach. Some compromise by rolling the dough into squares, piling the filling on top, then pulling the corners up and over the filling to make a little packet.
The judges were presented with kolacky from five local retailers (two bakeries, a grocer, a cafe, and a meat shop), all unidentified. Each round included the traditional poppyseed filling as well as the less-traditional raspberry (to the annoyance of one resident, who felt strongly that apricot would have been a better choice). Four entries were of the yeast-dough variety.
The common criticism of the entries? Not enough filling. Round after round, there were complaints about the paucity of poppyseeds and raspberries. Noted one woman, who made kolacky every week for most of her adult life: “Too much bread. Not enough sweet.” Another woman agreed: “Very skimpy. Not enough filling for all that dough.”
Fred’s Foods ($8.58 / dozen) from nearby Montgomery opened the tasting. The town of Montgomery refers to itself as the Kolacky Capital of the World (there’s a town in Nebraska that would beg to differ), but the response to Fred’s offering was just OK. “Kind of dry,” one woman said of the yeast dough, and two others noted that the poppyseed filling in particular was not only lacking in quantity, but was also overly dry, as if it were not a poppyseed filling, but just poppyseeds. The raspberry filling met with greater approval — even though the judges felt there wasn’t enough of it — because of its sweet-tart flavor.
In the second round, one woman picked up a piece of poppyseed kolacky, squeezed it, and said: “Dry. Must be from Lau’s.” She guessed correctly; the kolacky from New Prague mainstay Lau’s Czech Bakery ($7.98 / dozen), as noted, had the unfortunate texture of stale bread. And in a tasting event where every entry was dinged for lack of filling, Lau’s was singled out for the sparseness of both poppyseed and raspberry.
The third round of pastries were from Skluzacek’s Meats ($7.38 / dozen), also known for its Czech jitrnice sausage. Again, not enough filling, but what there was, tasted good, and the dough was not as dry as Lau’s. The consensus was that at this point in the contest, Skluzacek’s had the best poppyseed filling.
The fourth round tested kolacky from New Prague’s Ettlin’s Cafe ($23.88 / dozen). Ettlin’s was the lone purveyor of biscuit-like kolacky. They were not a hit. “Tough,” one woman said dismissively. “Why is the raspberry underbaked?” another asked. It was a fair question. While the dough on the poppyseed version was a rich brown, the raspberry kolacky was pale and gummy. Ettlin’s produced both center-filled and open-face kolacky, but the dough problems were universal.
The final round was from Franke’s Bakery ($9 / dozen), also in Montgomery. Franke’s is the self-proclaimed “Kolacky Kapital,” and even presented anonymously, Franke’s kolacky were recognized by two judges. While lack of filling was still a complaint, the light yeast dough, soft and tender, met with high approval. There were several comments of the “This is how I / my mother / my grandmother made it” variety — the only entry that earned this high praise. Overall, this was the winning entry for both poppyseed and raspberry, although there were a few judges who still said they preferred Skluzacek’s poppyseed version.
In the end, Franke’s was the champion. It appears their claim of being the “Kolacky Kapital” is not a hollow brag.
208 4th Ave SW
200 1st St S
105 Boulevard Ave NW
Lau’s Czech Bakery
121 Main St W
400 Main St W